Rector's Monthly Letters

May and June 2020

This month the Rector is providing weekly midweek reflections to help us through the present difficult times.

These are usually both written text and spoken word. These can be found on the 'Midweek Reflections' tab above, and on the 'Rectors Audio Message' tab above.

These are in addition to the Sunday services and talks that are put together by our clergy team.

 

April 2020

Dear Friends

The Christian message is one of hope. The hope that, although darkness is still present, the light of a new dawn is on the horizon. During Easter we remember the events through which that hope is founded. Easter commemorates the moment when Jesus completes his work of restoring the relationship between humans and God. Indeed, it is the moment when the whole of creation is reconciled to God and given new life (Col 1:19-20). That moment emerges from the darkest of circumstances when for the sake of political and religious expediency, an innocent man is brutally executed. Yet there is resurrection and new life. Self-seeking human power is no match for the power of God, yet so often human societies opt for human solutions to address the issues of the day.

In the last decade or so we have faced darkness in many forms. Economic collapse and years of austerity, environmental disorder and catastrophic weather events, political instability and social division exposed by Brexit, devastating wars and acts of terror, the suffering of millions of refugees and now the Corona virus and its repercussions.

So far we have chosen to place our trust in politics, human enterprise and science and technology to deliver us from these perils. Such things have their place but only I suggest, when they are embedded in the ways of the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Hope is realised, not through human action alone or by praying that the challenges we face simply go away but by praying that we would address them as God would have us address them. Jesus chose the way of His Father to complete his Easter mission and we must do the same. This will involve hard choices – the choices of love over those of self-security. Spiritual power is needed to make such choices and for that we must intentionally refer to the God of Easter hope.

Steve

 

March 2020

Dear Friends

 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 1 John 4:20

Last month I wrote about environmental crisis and the complexity of factors that contribute to it. Throughout Lent our house-groups will consider      environmental issues through the lens of the first chapters of Genesis.

Whilst Christians live in the genuine hope that God will renew creation at the end of this age, the way we treat the planet now, does very much matter. Our relationship with God and the relationships we have with other people and the whole of creation are essentially interwoven. The verse from 1 John above highlights the link between loving God and loving others but the link between loving others and loving the rest of creation is less explicit. Yet the Bible does make that link, particularly in the Old Testament.

All living things are sacred and connected. Relationships within creation are such that if we harm the creation we will inevitably also be harming people. Our actions have consequences. Our prosperity often comes at a cost to others. Furthermore, nations with a Christian heritage do a disservice to the Christian gospel when they exploit the world’s resources, and indirectly, people of other nations.

Lent is an opportunity for reflection and repentance; prayer and fasting. These spiritual disciplines are not mechanisms by which we show God how devout we are or persuade Him to answer our prayers. Instead they have the potential to open our hearts to the possibility of change. Perhaps this year we can fast in ways that reflect our concern for the natural world and enable, maybe small but significant changes to our lifestyle. The study booklets we will be using through Lent offer suggestions in this. We might find some of them valuable.

Steve

 

February 2020

Dear Friends

It is now clear that the world is in the grip of an escalating environmental emergency, yet up to now we have been in denial; still looking for ways of solving the crisis without significantly altering our lifestyles. On the whole, governments have failed to implement sufficiently quickly, the radical policies needed to reverse the situation. Fear of economic decline and of losing position, status and power in the world order is a significant reason for that. Economic and political power currently rests with nations that have most benefitted from the fossil-fuelled era. They will have to give up some of that power and wealth and also provide support for other poorer nations that no longer have the option of exploiting the planet in order to catch up.

The situation though is more is complex than just this and relates to cultures and societies deeply engrained in a dependency on fossil fuels. For example, we could as a nation, pledge to limit air travel by putting a cap on overseas holidays. That decision though would impact less on those who give up a holiday or two and more on the people who rely on the tourism industry to make what is often a fairly meagre living. And what of the families and businesses that have arrived at their current situation because of the ease of air travel and rely on it to keep going. Radical policies have to be made but their  impact on all people has to be assessed and offset by those individuals, able to afford it.

The solution to climate change and the consequences of it will not be found just through government policy but through a desire on the part of everyone for change. It will require vulnerability for there will be risks involved for everyone. As we enter Lent we must pray that God readies our hearts to make the substantial sacrifices needed to avert catastrophe.

Steve.

 

January 2020

Dear Friends

I guess we would all agree that, as a nation we have been through an extended time of political and social uncertainty and instability. It has also been a time of deep division among our people, fuelled by angry, unguarded comments, particularly on social media platforms. Whilst the recent election result will have caused rejoicing for some, others will be left feeling disheartened and anxious about the future. It is vital though, that whatever we are feeling, we enter 2020, with hope. For hope mobilises perseverance and eases despair.

Writer and Pastor Jim Wallis describes hope as ‘believing in spite of the evidence and then seeing the evidence change’. For Wallis and for all Christians, our believing, and therefore our hope, rests on Jesus, but the belief we profess must also be lived out, otherwise it is not an authentic belief. We cannot claim to believe in Jesus yet fail to live under his direction. Faith tells us that whatever our circumstances, if we genuinely follow Him, a secure future awaits us. Furthermore, if our society wholeheartedly puts its trust in Him and adopts his principles for human living then a better future awaits us all. For now, this may not be a message that our society is ready to hear for its trust remains in secular ideals and philosophies. Neither indeed is it a message that is clearly and unambiguously coming out of the church. Yet there is always hope. God has not gone away. Whatever the evidence in front of us, if we keep believing, genuinely believing, that evidence will change.

Steve

 

December 2019

Dear Friends

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,                Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

It seems to me that government and leadership has much to do with the relationship between, authority, power and responsibility. Power (the ability to influence and determine the shape of both our own and the lives of others) is dependent on many factors. Authority (permission to exercise power) is just one of those factors. Those   given the privilege of power have a responsibility to use it well including perhaps the hardest thing of all, to empower the powerless.

The Christmas story demonstrates that God empowers the powerless and gives meaning and value to their lives, in spite of the efforts of the powerful to thwart Him. The shepherds possessed no religious or social status yet through a vision of angels they were empowered to reveal to the world the great event of Jesus’ birth and strengthen the resolve of Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph themselves were in worldly terms, poor and insignificant. They were subject to harsh and inflexible Roman bureaucracy. The ones at the sharp end of Caesar’s whim to hold a census. They were the ones forced to flee to Egypt  following the violent decree of the tyrannical puppet king, Herod. They were the ones scorned by the religious powers of the day. Yet each of the bastions of power that conspired against them quickly collapsed. Herod died within a year or two of Jesus’ birth and his    successors held power for only one further generation. Jerusalem and its temple (the heart of the religious system, so opposed to Jesus that it put him to death) was itself destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 at a time when the Roman Empire itself was on the verge of self-destruction. Allegiance to Jesus Christ on the other hand grew rapidly and continues to grow to this day. As Isaiah reminds us ‘Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.’

So as we approach a December election we might keep in mind the Christmas message that a rule of force, coercion, deception and neglect of the powerless cannot ultimately prevail. True power is found in the way of Jesus, the way of self-sacrificial love.

Steve

November 2019

Dear Friends

November marks a season of remembrance for the Church beginning with All Saints’ Day on the 1st and All Souls’ Day on the 2nd. I’ve always found it hard to determine the distinction between the two days. All Saints’ Day  remembers the saints of old – Christians that have made something of a mark on the world and whose lives and examples inform us in the here and now. All Souls day is a day designated to remember the ‘faithful departed’ (any Christians who have travelled this life before us).  My problem with it is that the term ‘saint’ seems to designate certain Christians as being a bit special and superior, yet all are made right with God not by what they have done, but by what Jesus has done on their behalf.

Remembering the named saints does have its benefits. There is much that we can learn from them about courage, humility, wisdom etc. We also  however, benefit from remembering the lives of the ordinary souls. The ups and downs that they went through in seeking to live faithfully as followers of Jesus often resonates in our own lives. Remembrance is a crucial part of helping us to live well as individuals, but it should also help us to learn how best to form society.

In November we also mark Remembrance Day. The events that gave rise to this day should have taught us that attitudes of racial or cultural superiority and casual disregard for the lives of others potentially culminate in global catastrophe. Yet those attitudes persist even at seemingly benign events such as football matches. Observance of Remembrance Day also teaches us that standing up for what is right comes at a cost, yet it is something that we are at times required to do. In these days of political and social dissent and division it serves us well to remember and, in humility, turn to God to seek help in finding the best way forward.  

Steve

October 2019

Dear Friends

These last few weeks my mind has turned towards reflecting on what it means to be dependent on others. We are born totally dependent on our parents. As we age, for some we become dependent again. This time on our children, or on strangers to ensure our wellbeing. At other times in our lives, such as it is for me now, we find ourselves dependent again as we recover from surgery or illness. I for one rail quietly (or not so quietly!) against it; that loss of independence and a feeling of vulnerability. We have no choice but to trust those on whom we depend. With family, that comes more easily, but with strangers – doctors, nurses, physios etc, though we do not know them we have to trust that they want nothing but the best for us.

To be dependent on others requires us to find within a sense of humility. To be able to let go of that hard won ability to care for ourselves and to let others care for us instead. Peter struggled with it himself when Jesus prepared to wash his feet. ‘You will never wash my feet’ he declared.  Perhaps he could not bear the thought of Jesus humbling himself to carry out this task. That same humility is the humility we need to find in order to acknowledge and accept that each one of us is wholly dependent on God – on his love, his grace and his mercy. We need to let go of the notion that we can do anything on our own and trust that he has a plan for us. It is self dependency that breeds worry. To be self-dependent means that we alone are responsible for every aspect of our lives. To  depend on God means that we trust in his faithfulness and allow him to be a constant presence in our lives, guiding and upholding us day by day.

Some words from Psalms to help us:

Psalm 73: 26 “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”.

Psalm 121: 1-2 “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”.

Psalm 16: 8 “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken”.

Caroline

September 2019

Dear Friends

In my last letter I wrote about the time and space that I enjoyed during a recent retreat and the depth of experience that it enabled. During my retreat I felt closer to God and realised that this is something I need more of in my everyday life. I raised this with my Spiritual Director, saying that finding space was not an easy thing for me and observing that Jesus regularly made space to be with his Father. My Spiritual Director asked me the difference between finding space and making it. His question highlighted my lack of intentionality in this area. If we are serious about fostering relationship, whether with God or other people we need to be intentional about making time and space to enable it. It is easy for us to say that things are important or priority but the way we live our lives often speaks differently. Our actions speak louder than words and reveal more accurately the things we deem important or give priority to.

As the summer comes to an end, and before the increased activity of autumn begins, we have an opportunity to set our priorities for the months ahead. If like me, you feel that one such priority is to deepen your relationship with God then I suggest we need to make time to explore different ways through which we can connect with Him and establish the ones that work best for us. We must then make time to put those methods into practice on a regular basis to ensure that they are not overwhelmed by the seemingly important yet rather more trivial matters of everyday life.

Steve

August 2019

Dear Friends

A few weeks ago we entered a period described in the church as ordinary time. It is a time during which other than harvest, there are no special, named festivals. It is quite a long period, extending right up to Advent Sunday. Whilst I value and look forward to the special seasons and festivals, I also like ordinary time, simply because it is ordinary.

Our contemporary way of life seems to be characterised by frantic busyness and a push towards productivity. We feel we have expectations on us to make the most of every moment and experience and fill any gaps in our activity. The trend of people to make a ‘bucket list’ is perhaps, indicative of this. It is all fed I think, by our desire for achievement, and the belief that personal significance is found in what we accomplish. Ordinary time should remind us that the ordinary is important and special in its ordinariness.

I have just come back from a three-day retreat and the greatest thing that I was aware of during that retreat was space. I achieved nothing from a task point of view but I gained greater depth in the books that I read; was aware of a variety of insects and butterflies that I did not know existed; had conversations for the sake of having conversations and went running, not to achieve a fastest time but at a pace that I could enjoy and continue for as long as I wanted. It was a time to be and not to do. Summer is a great season for being. I urge you to find space to be and to value the ordinary.

Steve

 

July 2019

Dear Friends

Luke 24:48-49  ‘You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

Acts 1:8  ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

Last month we celebrated Ascension Day and Pentecost. Luke, writing in his Gospel and in Acts quotes Jesus’ last words to his disciples before            ascending out of sight. He outlined the role they were to play in the work of God that he initiated, but they had to wait 10 days for the festival of Pentecost before they received the power through which they could carry it out. I am convinced that the same is true for the church in today’s world. We are given the same remit to be witnesses. A witness is someone who gives a reliable account. The church is to give a reliable account of Jesus. That is to portray him as he really is and to live in a way that is consistent with his teaching. Failure to do so gives a false picture of Jesus. We are also like those first disciples in that we cannot live this way by just trying harder. The life Jesus asks of us is one of self-sacrificial love; a scary prospect for us mortals to consistently model. Jesus though provides the supernatural power to change our hearts and motives.

As we celebrate Pentecost year on year we are reminded that the Christian life can only be authentic if it is supernaturally empowered. The Holy Spirit will challenge us to let go of our self-centered motives and comfort us with the peace only God can give when we do. Our role is to open our hearts to him and to respond to his leading and then we will find that we naturally become better witnesses of Jesus.

Steve

June 2019

Dear Friends

My attention was recently drawn to a UN report that summarised the influence of humans on nature. The findings were disturbing. For one thing it seems that we humans are destroying the very ecosystems that are essential to our own survival. Yet it goes far beyond that. From a theological perspective we are causing the breakdown of a creation that God has deemed very good. The human appetite for  ever-increasing economic prosperity has rendered the creation  somewhat less good than it should be.

According to the report one million species are now at risk of extinction and I wonder if the decline of species is a greater threat to the world than climate change. It has long been my view that God’s ideal for the creation revolves around a complexity of relationship and connectedness. Take things out of it and something else will also suffer and decline. Remove bees for example and plants will cease to be able to pollinate. Remove a specific habitat and the species that the habitat supports will no longer be able to survive. The creation depends on diversity and I suggest that this is the case because that is how God intended it to be.

Science has revealed to us the problem and we need science to help us find ways forward, but I do not believe that science alone has the solution. The problem is as much spiritual as it is practical. For the world to work well we need to refer to and live within the parameters set by its maker, for He is the one who determines the ways in which it works. We also need the humility to accept that without God we are powerless to change (to the extent that is required) our human nature that gives rise to unsustainable lifestyles and the political, social and economic systems that govern them.

Steve

May 2019

Dear Friends

During my time at Theological College we were encouraged in the practice of theological reflection. That is to think about experiences and events in the light of our faith and knowledge of God. For me, the recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral has prompted much theological reflection. For in an essentially post-Christian country the outpouring of grief and multi-million euro pledges for the cathedral’s renovation is quite astonishing.

My first reaction to these things was what about Yemen and Syria and the floods in East Africa and even Grenfell? Doesn’t the human impact of these disasters render them more worthy of financial support and how did it come to pass that there are businessmen in the world with several hundred million euros to give away anyway? But to judge things as simply right or wrong is inadequate. Theological reflection is not about finding simplistic answers but about fully engaging with the questions for it is only with an open mind that we come to a deeper understanding of the nature of God and how people encounter Him. Clearly, Notre Dame is much more to the people of Paris than a religious site. It somehow embodies the story of its people. When it becomes vulnerable, the people recognise and become unsettled by the awareness their own vulnerability. It is significant that the people witnessing the fire found comfort in solidarity with one another and in the corporate recital of hymns and prayers. People unaccustomed to seeking God were suddenly doing so.

The reaction to the fire might be verging on a misplaced worship of buildings and human accomplishment and I would like to think that we could grieve and pray as fervently about the ongoing threat to God’s creation and the loss of Christianity to our culture. We should not though, underestimate the significance that ancient religious buildings have in the spiritual dimension of our lives.

Steve